Saturday, March 27, 2010

Man Bites Dog

One more before I get away to visit my balloon gal for the weekend, well actually I got a call from her care co-ordinator a couple of days ago. They are short staffed this weekend and need K to be cared for tomorrow. He assures me that they are hiring more staff but are in a short term bind right now and if I could take K for an extended time tomorrow it would greatly help. I'll catch the 0630 flight and be there by 10 am and keep her til 6 pm. I don't mind but usually I run out of steam after about 2-3 hours with her, it is intense but I love her a lot. I also really like the group of folks that are providing care to her now, fodder for another blog later. We will probably spend a lot of time just driving around tomorrow, it is one activity that K likes and is not too strenuous. Wish me luck.

"Man Bites Dog"

I was returning from Baker Lake in my Cessna 402, a twin engine, all weather, high speed aircraft (reminiscent of the old, old TV show "Sky King". This was one of the fleet we had based in Yellowknife that I flew when I was "furloughed" from the airline. Furlough is a euphemism for laid-off but seems much more palatable to the professional pilots and management of a big airline. I had gone to work for another charter operator in the Far North, this time I was living "North of 60" (the 60th parallel of latitude). It was the Arctic.

We had a covey (fleet) of several Cessna 185's, a Standard Beaver (piston engine), Turbo Beaver (turbo-prop engine), Twin Otter (large freight hauling twin engine turbo prop) and two "Twin Cessna's" like the on I was flying that day. All but the Twin Cessna's were on floats in the summer time and wheel skis for the rest of the year, there is only about four or five months of ice free water this far north.

I usually flew the Twin Cessna's and occaisonally the 185's because the 'freight walked on", not a nice way to say we mostly hauled passengers in these aircraft, the others were freight haulers and the pilot loaded and unloaded his own aircraft. I was the chief pilot so I got my pick as a rule.

Returning from dropping passengers in Baker Lake (the only fresh water Inuit community in the world, the rest are on the salt water shores of the Arctic Ocean), I had an empty airplane, cruising along the HF radio crackles and snarls as I check in about an hour out of home base, Norm the dispatcher is eager to hear from me as he has a "double up", that means we can catch another charter and everyone gets paid as though the trip was done both ways, legal and a normal but rare occurrence).

He had a passenger to pick up at a fishing lodge that just happened to have a strip that could accommodate the Twin Cessna. The trip had been planned with a 185 on floats but I was about ten minutes away from the lodge when I checked in on the radio and Norm had already figured it would save the 185 trip and hardly be out of my way.

I took the message and proceeded to the lodge strip, I flew low over the camp and waggled my wings, the fishers in camp waved and I flew over to the strip, about 3/4 mile up the hill, landed and waited, and waited and waited, obviously they had not realized I would be landing. This, not being a town, had no official meeting party I guess.

I decided after about half an hour to walk down to camp, have lunch (camps are famous for good lunches and feeding pilots). As I started the short trek I thought to myself - Bear country, best shuffle my feet a bit and whistle, just in case.

I had only got a few hundred feet, got to a blind corner and as I shuffled whistling, in the middle of the road (really just a path in the bush for the pick up, I came upon the the north end of a south bound bear, in the middle of the path and sniffing or eating something. I stopped and reached down to grab a rock, thinking if I threw the rock in the bush beside the bear he (bears are always he unless they have cubs) would be frightened and run off. Stop the presses! As my fingers touched the rock I remember never having read in any newspaper the headline "Man Mauls Bear". I stayed crouched and backed up around the corner and ran like a three year old back to my plane.

Fortunately, not long after I got to the plane, thinking I would have to buzz the camp again, a pick-up with three guides from the camp drove up, all with eyes as wide as saucers, they were an a garbage run to the dump spot with the camps garbage and didn't know I was there. hey saw me and stopped and one said "Did you see the bear" with more than a hint of terror in his voice, I said "Ya". I hopped in the back of the truck and we dumped the garbage at the far end of the strip, there because you don't want the garbage near camp- bears.
There was a bear carcass in the dump. I asked and they told me last week it had come to camp and started "raising hell" so it was shot.

We headed back to camp and as we approached the last turn for camp, a gun shot rang out, as we made the corner, there stood Jerry the camp manger, gun still smoking in hand and a dead bear about 20 feet away from him. He looked up at the pick-up and shaking his head said "The bugger charged at me". I recognized that bear.

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